Agroecosystem Analysis of the Choke Mountain Watersheds, Ethiopia
Received: 22 October 2012 / Revised: 31 December 2012 / Accepted: 30 January 2013 / Published: 5 February 2013
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Tropical highland regions are experiencing rapid climate change. In these regions the adaptation challenge is complicated by the fact that elevation contrasts and dissected topography produce diverse climatic conditions that are often accompanied by significant ecological and agricultural diversity within a relatively
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Tropical highland regions are experiencing rapid climate change. In these regions the adaptation challenge is complicated by the fact that elevation contrasts and dissected topography produce diverse climatic conditions that are often accompanied by significant ecological and agricultural diversity within a relatively small region. Such is the case for the Choke Mountain watersheds, in the Blue Nile Highlands of Ethiopia. These watersheds extend from tropical alpine environments at over 4000 m elevation to the hot and dry Blue Nile gorge that includes areas below 1000 m elevation, and contain a diversity of slope forms and soil types. This physical diversity and accompanying socio-economic contrasts demand diverse strategies for enhanced climate resilience and adaptation to climate change. To support development of locally appropriate climate resilience strategies across the Blue Nile Highlands, we present here an agroecosystem analysis of Choke Mountain, under the premise that the agroecosystem—the intersection of climatic and physiographic conditions with agricultural practices—is the most appropriate unit for defining adaptation strategies in these primarily subsistence agriculture communities. To this end, we present two approaches to agroecosystem analysis that can be applied to climate resilience studies in the Choke Mountain watersheds and, as appropriate, to other agroecologically diverse regions attempting to design climate adaptation strategies. First, a full agroecoystem analysis was implemented in collaboration with local communities. It identified six distinct agroecosystems that differ systematically in constraints and adaptation potential. This analysis was then paired with an objective landscape classification trained to identify agroecosystems based on climate and physiographic setting alone. It was found that the distribution of Choke Mountain watershed agroecosystems can, to first order, be explained as a function of prevailing climate. This suggests that the conditions that define current agroecosystems are likely to migrate under a changing climate, requiring adaptive management strategies. These agroecosystems show a remarkable degree of differentiation in terms of production orientation and socio-economic characteristics of the farming communities suggesting different options and interventions towards building resilience to climate change.